Delta

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Award Space is widely available for two passengers on several routes to London in May and June 2016.

This is an excellent use of Delta SkyMiles because these awards cost 62,500 SkyMiles each way per person, despite Delta’s big devaluation last week. The award space is also an excellent use of ThankYou Points transferred to Virgin Atlantic miles during the current 25% transfer bonus. Some of the Upper Class award space goes for as little as 32,000 ThankYou Points each way per person.

About Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic flies from 12 American cities to London.

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It also flies from the United States to Manchester, Glasgow, and Belfast.

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Booking Virgin Atlantic Awards

You can book Virgin Atlantic flights with Virgin Atlantic miles or Delta SkyMiles. The advantage of booking with Virgin Atlantic miles is that you need way fewer miles. Here is the roundtrip award chart to the United Kingdom with Virgin Atlantic miles. One way awards cost half the number of miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.02.18 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.02.35 PM

The drawbacks are that Virgin Atlantic awards booked with Virgin Atlantic miles have fuel surcharges and the prices are valid only to London, not the rest of Europe.

When booked with Delta, there are no fuel surcharges, and you can connect in London to other cities in Europe. All Delta awards that fly Virgin Atlantic cost 62,500 miles one way in Upper Class between the United States and Europe.

Fuel Surcharges

Just how big are the fuel surcharges?

Virgin Atlantic awards booked with Delta miles have no fuel surcharges. Virgin Atlantic awards booked with Virgin Atlantic miles have big fuel surcharges.

  • One way awards in economy to London have fuel surcharges of $129.
  • One way awards in Premium Economy to London have fuel surcharges of $229.
  • One way awards in Upper Class to London have fuel surcharges of $414 or $452, depending on flight length.

 

 

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Product

 

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class offers a flat bed, Clubhouse access, and access to an onboard bar.

 

Award Space Picture

I searched on delta.com for award space for two passengers in Business Class (Upper Class) on direct routes served by Virgin Atlantic. Here’s what you want the search box to look like to get a five-week calendar view of award space for two passengers on the direct flight only.

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On many routes from the eastern United States, I found award space nearly every day.

Atlanta

All days that say “62,500” have award space for two passengers in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class that you can book with Delta or Virgin Atlantic miles.

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New YorkScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.13.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.14.02 PM
MiamiScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.15.15 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.15.20 PM
ChicagoScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.15.38 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.15.44 PM
BostonScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.16.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.16.39 PM
DetroitScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.16.55 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.17.00 PM
Washington DCScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.18.19 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at 1.18.25 PM

But the award space really falls apart on western routes. It is very sparse from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas to London.

 

Booking the Awards

First decide which miles to book with. If you want to burn Delta miles, or you hate fuel surcharges, book with Delta miles. If you have a cache of Virgin Atlantic miles or ThankYou Points, book with Virgin Atlantic miles. If you have both, figure out the cents-per-miles that each redemption offers, and choose the better one.

Book with Delta miles on delta.com and Virgin Atlantic miles on virgin-atlantic.com.

Pay your award taxes (and fuel surcharges if you use Virgin Atlantic miles) with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes and fuel surcharges.

 

Bottom Line

There is great award space for two passengers in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for two passengers in May and June 2016 on many routes from the eastern United States to London.

You can book the award space with 62,500 Delta miles plus taxes or 40,000 Virgin Atlantic miles plus taxes plus fuel surcharges. Right now there is a 25% transfer bonus from ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles.

This a great way to burn Delta miles in the face of the newest devaluation or to get great value from Citi ThankYou Points.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

9

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Delta has introduced revenue-based awards today and higher priced upgrades for travel beyond June 1, 2016. You can currently book award travel and upgrades through June 9, 2016.

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Delta’s Statement

Here’s what Delta says about the changes:

We know your miles are important, so we want to provide the most notice possible regarding Award price changes. For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other considerations. But most Award prices will remain unchanged. To see the best availability and deals, search at least 21 days prior to departure and use our Award Calendar by selecting “flexible days” when searching for a flight.

Let’s go through this inanity line by line.

“We know your miles are important…”

Then why, Delta, do you make your miles the least valuable, and why did you eliminate your award charts?

“…so we want to provide the most notice possible regarding Award price changes.”

Then why, Delta, did you provide us with no notice? The changes aren’t for bookings made in 2016. The changes are for flights flown June 1, 2016 and later. Nine days worth of awards (June 1-9, 2016) have gone up in price today with no notice.

“For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other considerations.”

  • Destination is already factored into the price via regions on your still-operating award chart that you removed from your website.
  • Demand is already factored into the price via the five levels of prices on your still-operating award chart that you removed from your website.
  • Other considerations” could literally mean anything. Now we literally have no idea what factors will impact the price of an award.

“But most Award prices will remain unchanged.”

It’s not even clear to me what this means. Is Delta saying it will stick with its five level, secret award chart most of the time? If so, under what circumstances will it deviate from that chart?

Let me know in the comments what this sentence means to you please.

“To see the best availability and deals, search at least 21 days prior to departure…”

Interesting that for the first time Delta admits that it jacks up mileage prices at 21 days before departure. United and American don’t do that–they tend to open more award space at the lowest levels then–but they do charge a $75 redemption fee within 21 days. (You can get around United’s.)

“…and use our Award Calendar by selecting “flexible days” when searching for a flight.”

Obviously search with the new award calendar to see five weeks of prices. But all five weeks might be too expensive.

What does it all mean?

I’m guessing that all this doublespeak means that Delta is going closer to full-blown revenue based awards for its own flights that depart June 2016 or later. I don’t think we’ll see full revenue based quite yet where one mile equals one cent toward the cash price of a flight in all cases. I think we’ll see some awards on an award chart, where there are still 12,500 mile awards domestically, but we’ll also see some outrageously expensive awards, far more expensive than current award charts, and more closely tied to the cash price of a flight.

I also think that we’ll see partner awards price out at the same price they currently do, which is Level 1 on Delta’s secret award chart. Hopefully this never changes, and hopefully you live in a city with SkyTeam partner flights, so you don’t need to connect Delta award space to partner award space.

What Does the Devaluation Look Like in Practice?

Here is Delta’s current, secret award chart for flights through May 31, 2016.

The most expensive (Level 5) Business Class award between the South Africa and the United States is 175,000 miles on that award chart. In June 2016, the direct Delta flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta cost 375,000 miles one way in Business Class every day. (The next three examples come from FlyerTalker Wiirachay.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.45.12 AM

Holy cow!Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.45.24 AM

Similarly, the highest price on the current award chart for Middle East to the United States is 162,500 miles, but a one way in Business Class from Dubai to Atlanta in June is pricing at 375,000 miles.Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.45.53 AM

Sydney to Los Angeles used to top out at 175,000 miles one way. For flights in June, it too is going for 375,000 miles one way! Note, however, that the partner flight on Virgin Australia is still pricing at the Level 1 price of 80,000 miles one way.
Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.46.23 AM

FlyerTalker javabytes wins the prize for finding the most expensive June 2016 award so far.Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.52.03 AM

Milwaukee to Auckland with three Delta flights and a Virgin Australia flight prices out at 415,000 SkyMiles one way. (I think the 415,000 mile example is a 375,000 mile award plus a 40,000 mile Virgin Australia award. It’s another issue entirely–and not a new one–that Delta’s computers adds up the price of Delta and partner flights separately when you combine them onto one award.)

So far we’re seeing direct Business Class awards top out at 375,000 miles one way or 750,000 miles roundtrip. That’s more than double the prices on the current award chart.

Luckily partner awards are the same price in June 2016 as they are now, and Delta Level 1 awards haven’t gone up in price.

Bottom Line on Award Price Changes

This change is BAD, and takes us one step closer to SkyMiles being worth a penny each. SkyMiles are the worst miles of any American airline.

But I will not abandon SkyMiles. There is not value in holding SkyMiles longeterm–I’m thrilled to have under 20,000 in my account–but there is still occasionally value in picking up one of their credit cards, getting the bonus, and booking an award quickly.

Speaking of credit cards? How will American Express react to this further devaluation of SkyMiles, since it is the issuer of Delta co-branded cards and Membership Rewards cards that earn points that be transferred to SkyMiles? At some point the average credit card user has to start reacting to the devaluation of SkyMiles and dump those cards.

Other Changes

Upgrades

“Miles needed to upgrade* will increase, and to provide greater access to these upgrades, we’ve expanded the eligible types of fares.

*Includes seats in Delta One, First Class and Business Class”

Of course, Delta “Delta-ed” (my new word for “obfuscated”) here and didn’t list the prices for award upgrades. But Delta flyers are figuring out the upgrade prices one at a time, and they are going at the top of this page. Increases in upgrade prices aren’t a big deal to me because upgrades were already a bad value. But still, check out how bad they are now for travel June 1, 2016 and later.

Example:

US-Europe:
Y/B/M: 60,000 miles
S/H/Q/K: 80,000 miles

If you buy a really expensive Y, B, or M  economy fare to Europe, you will need 60,000 miles to upgrade one way. This is a terrible deal since Level 1 awards start at 62,500 miles one way in Business Class. (Not to mention Aeroplan charges 45,000 miles and American charges 50,000 miles for one way awards to Europe in Business Class.)

If you buy a slightly less expensive S, H, Q, or K fare, you need 80,000 miles one way to upgrade.

If you buy the actual cheap fares (L, U, T, X, V, and E), you can’t upgrade at all.

You will NEVER get a high value Delta upgrade with these rules.

The Rest

The rest of the changes are so insignificant, and some aren’t even changes, that I suspect they were thrown in to obfuscate Delta the real changes to the award charts and upgrade charts. Check out all the changes here.

Bottom Line

SkyMiles are even less valuable today than yesterday. There are still more valuable uses of them and less valuable uses of them, so I’ll continue to keep an eye on the program and use it to my advantage.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Update 7/9/15: All these deals are dead. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card has come out with an even better offer! 75,000 bonus points after spending $2k in the first three months.

Today (June 30) the 60k and 50k Delta credit card offers expire, the 50k Hilton credit card offer expires, and the ability to buy IHG points for 0.575 cents ends. It’s a big day for procrastinators.

I do not know the exact times the credit card offers end. If you click a link, and the offer is still there, it is still valid.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card with 50,000 Hilton Points after spending $1k in the first four months

Current Offer: 50,000 bonus Hilton points + $50 statement credit
Best Guess for Offer Tomorrow: 40,000 bonus Hilton points and no statement credit
Don’t Miss This Deal If: Some of the Category 1 (12 free nights) or Category 2 (6 free nights) Hilton properties appeal to you
Skip This Deal If: You want to stay at Category 3+ Hiltons (0-2 free nights)
Further Reading: How to Get 6 to 12 Free Nights from the Citi Hilton HHonors Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card offers 50,000 Hilton Points after spending $1k in the first four months and a $50 statement credit after spending $50 on your first stay at any hotel within the Hilton Portfolio during the first 3 months of account opening.

 

This card is designed for people who want to pursue the many-free-nights strategy with Hilton, taking advantage of underpriced 5,000 and 10,000 point hotels and the fifth-night-free benefit that cardholders get on all awards.

This card is terrible for people who want to stay at the fanciest Hiltons, which cost 95,000 points for a single night. They should get the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card with two free weekend nights worldwide at any Hilton after spending $2,500 in four months.

Check out How to Get 6 to 12 Free Nights from the Citi Hilton HHonors Card for an explanation of maximizing the card and examples of getting more than $1,000 in free hotel nights from the card’s sign up bonus.

Delta Platinum with 60k Bonus Miles + 10k MQM, Delta Golds with 50k Bonus Miles

Current Offer: Platinum offers 60k Bonus Miles + 10k MQMs, Delta Golds offer 50k Bonus Miles
Best Guess for Offer Tomorrow: 30k all three cards
Don’t Miss This Deal If: You want to fly to Australia, Central America, or South America or you want MQMs
Skip This Deal If: You’re planning a trip to Europe or within the United States or you’ve already had the Delta Gold personal or Delta Platinum
Further Reading: Delta 50k and 60k Offers End Tuesday, Get Them Now

The Platinum card is the card for people who want to earn Delta elite status with their purchases:

  • 60,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $2,000 in the first three months
  • 10,000 MQM after spending $2,000 in the first three months
  • 15,000 MQM after spending $30,000 in a calendar year
  • Another 15,000 MQM after reaching $60,000 in a calendar year
  • 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases, 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
  • Free checked bag on Delta flights for you plus eight companions on the same reservation
  • $100 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase in the first three months
  • Priority Boarding on Delta
  • 20% off Delta onboard purchases
  • $195 annual fee, NOT waived

The Gold personal and business cards are the “standard” airline credit card:

  • 50,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $2,000 in the first three months
  • 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases, 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
  • Free checked bag on Delta flights for you plus eight companions on the same reservation
  • $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase in the first three months
  • Priority Boarding on Delta
  • 20% off Delta onboard purchases
  • $95 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months

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These cards are really fantastically easy ways to get Delta miles, which are especially valuable to Australia on Virgin Australia and throughout the Americas on AeroMexico. There are generally better miles to other places, so skip these cards if you’re new to miles and want a trip somewhere else.

Check out Delta 50k and 60k Offers End 6/30, Get Them Now for an explanation of maximizing the cards.

Buy IHG Points for 0.575 Cents

Current Offer: Buy IHG Points for 0.575 cents
Best Guess for Offer Tomorrow: Buy IHG Points for 1.15 cents
Don’t Miss This Deal If: You need to get your balance to 5,000 points to prepare for PointBreaks lists
Skip This Deal If: You don’t have a hotel stay in mind that is cheaper this way than just paying for the hotel with cash
Further Reading: Buy IHG Rewards Points for 0.575 Cents Each, $29 Hotel Rooms

There is a 100% bonus on purchasing IHG Rewards points, so that the effective price is 0.575 cents per point. That’s great news if you want to get in on 5,000 point per night ($29) PointBreaks hotels. That’s not nearly as fantastic if you want to book 50,000 point per night ($288) hotels.

For full analysis, check out Buy IHG Rewards Points for 0.575 Cents Each, $29 Hotel Rooms.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Alitalia Business Class award space is wide open in Spring 2016 from New York and Boston to Rome for 62,500 Delta miles each way. Many days have three award seats in nearly flat beds. You can connect to New York on Delta flights for zero extra miles, award space permitting, and within Italy or Europe on Alitalia for zero extra miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 2.13.11 PM

  • What is the Alitalia Business Class product?
  • What is the award price with Delta miles?
  • What is the award space on Alitalia’s routes?
  • What connections are possible?
  • How do you book these awards?
  • How do you get Delta miles?

Alitalia Business Class Product

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 2.13.19 PM

Alitalia’s Business Class features a staggered layout similar to Austrian Airways’, which I reviewed in Trip Report: Austrian Business Class from Vienna to Chicago. Your feet go under the arm rest of the person in front of you.

Image from Austrian Business Class to show the staggered seats. Your feet go under his arm rest.

Though widely marketed as fully flat, my eyes tell me that Alitalia seats are not fully parallel to the ground.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 2.12.54 PM

You can still get a comfortable night sleep, but not quite as comfortable as you’d get from a fully-flat, parallel-to-the-ground bed.

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Award Price

Delta charges 62,500 miles each way to Europe in Business Class. Alitalia awards originating in the United States, including one ways and roundtrips to Europe, do not incur fuel surcharges.

Alitalia awards originating in Europe, like one way trips home, do incur fuel surcharges, so don’t book one ways from Rome to the United States with Delta miles.

The miles price is the same from anywhere in the continental United States or Canada to anywhere in Europe, so adding connecting Delta or Alitalia flights will not change the miles price.

Roundtrip taxes to Rome should be $60 according to my List of Award Taxes from Major Cities in Europe, So You Return from Low Tax Countries.

Award Space

Alitalia flies year round from Boston, New York, and Miami to Rome. It serves Los Angeles and Chicago in the Summer.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.55.25 PM
Credit: gcmap.com

Award space is wide open from New York to Rome from January to May, 2016 (the end of the current 11 month booking window) for up to three passengers. Award space is good in 2016 from Boston to Rome.

New York to Rome

The following calendars show award space from New York to Rome for three passengers in Business Class on nonstop flights. Days that say 62,500 miles have three Business Class award seats on at least one Alitalia flight that day.
Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.56.41 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.58.21 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.58.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.57.51 PMThe calendars show that award space is wide open in 2016 from New York to Rome in Business Class on Alitalia flights.

Boston to Rome

Boston to Rome doesn’t have quite as much award space for two passengers, but there is still plenty of space in Spring 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.41 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.55 PM

Los Angeles to Rome

The other routes–from Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles–don’t have nearly as much award space. But there is a smattering of dates this summer from Los Angeles to Rome in Business Class with space for two.
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Connections

Don’t think of this as award space to Rome. Think of it as award space to Europe. Here are Alitalia’s flights from Rome.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 6.18.44 PM

Any connection within Europe in Business Class adds zero miles to the 62,500 miles price. That’s pretty much every city in Italy and every major city in Europe.

You can also connect to New York in Delta or Alaska First Class for zero extra miles. While Alitalia award space intra-Europe is widely available, Delta First Class space is much less available. That means this Alitalia award space is primarily valuable for those living in New York and Boston. But if you’re flexible enough, you can find availability in Delta First Class.

Booking the Awards

Alitalia awards are searchable and bookable on delta.com. I’d book right there unless you need to book a mixed cabin award or you are getting an error online, in which case I’d call Delta at 800-323-2323 to book. Unfortunately Delta will charge you a phone booking fee of $25 per ticket. There is no way to hold award space with Delta miles.

Pay your award taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes.

Getting the Miles

Right now Delta miles are easier than usual to get. Both the personal and business versions of the Delta Gold card are offering 50,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Their $95 annual fees are waived for the first year.

The Delta Platinum card offers 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQM (status miles) after spending $2,000 in the first three months. The $195 annual fee is not waived, but it is partially offset by a $100 credit if you make a Delta purchase in the first three months.

These deals end June 30.

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

Bottom Line

Award space is excellent in 2016 in a very good Business Class product from New York and Boston to Rome and the rest of Italy and Europe. Alitalia Business Class costs 62,500 Delta miles each way plus roundtrip taxes of about $60.

Award space is open for up to three people per flight.

Connections are widely available in Rome, and to a lesser extent within the United States.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

According to Delta’s SkyMiles FAQs, mixed cabin awards are no longer allowed.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.34.54 PM

Mixed cabin awards used to be explicitly allowed (and indeed this FAQ at a slightly different URL has the old language.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.35.00 PM

If mixed cabin awards were totally banned, that would terrible news. I can see three possible maladies:

  1. Delta has “five” cabins: economy, Business, Business Elite, First, and One. Each plane has only two cabins but the front cabin is branded several ways. Not being able to mix First (domestic) and One (international business) onto one award would make international awards nearly impossible and would be a ridiculous policy. This is, emphatically, not what the new prohibition means.
  2. Folks who live in small cities, served by economy-only regional jets would not be able to fly economy to the big city and connect to Delta One (international business). This is also definitely not what the new prohibition means.
  3. If you can’t book a one way award to Europe in economy with the return in Business Class for 92,500 miles, then you’d have to book those two awards separately for 30k + 62.5k. Delta awards originating in Europe (your one way return) incur fuel surcharges, so this will cost you a few hundred bucks extra compared to being able to book as one award! (Plus if you need to cancel later, you pay two cancellation fees!) The new prohibition will cause this situation.

We know that–for all Delta’s confusing branding–there are really only two cabins: economy and business.

A Delta spokesman told View from the Wing: “From a shopping perspective First and Business (Delta One) are one and the same ‘premium cabin’.”

So don’t worry about connecting domestic First Class to international Business Class, that’s only one cabin according to Delta.

We know that one-cabin planes will not cause problems.

A Delta spokesman told Delta Points: “When only Main Cabin is available on a flight segment due to aircraft configuration, that does not break the fare.”

You can confirm this online right now. Here is an award from Philadelphia to Rome via New York-JFK. Philadelphia to New York is operated by a one cabin plane, so the Business Class price of 62,500 miles includes that segment in economy and the transatlantic segment in Alitalia Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.05 PM

You can see that by clicking “Multiple Cabins” above the miles price to get this pop up.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.12 PM

And you can confirm the Delta flight only has one cabin by looking at its seat map by clicking “View Seats” below the itinerary’s times.Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.33 PM

3. But you cannot book mixed cabin roundtrips online–one way in economy and one in Business.

This is a problem. Say you want to book New York to Rome with the outbound in economy and return in Business Class. You can’t do that online, only both ways in economy for 60,000 miles or both ways in Business for 125,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.20.04 PM

You can book each direction as a one way award.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.23.15 PM

The problem is that the return is an award originating in Europe, meaning Delta slaps you with fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.24.54 PM

While the Alitalia flight I showed above has fuel surcharges of only about $140 + taxes, many awards have fuel surcharges that are a lot higher. Delta from Paris to New York would cost over $340 one way between fuel surcharges and high taxes you can avoid if you read this.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.26.20 PM

At least for now, though, you can book a roundtrip award with one way in economy and one way in Business Class for the proper price by calling Delta at 800-323-2323. I just confirmed that by pricing New York to Rome with one direction in economy and one in Business at 92,500 miles. Who knows how long this loophole will last.

Bottom Line

Delta added scary sounding languages to its frequently asked questions, barring mixed-cabin awards.

Right now, you can still book mixed-cabin roundtrips by phone.

You will always be able to book mixed-cabin awards where one flight is in Business Class, and another flight is in economy on a one-cabin plane. You will always be able to fly all premium cabins no matter how Delta has branded them (eg mixing BusinessElite and One.)

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Yesterday I reported that some Delta domestic awards cost only 5,000 SkyMiles one way, a 60% discount on the prevailing 12,500 mile rate we expect from legacy carriers. Other routes cost 10,000 SkyMiles one way. From playing around on delta.com, I’ve discovered a few more things.

  • So far, there are no known 5k segments that can be combined onto one award, so we don’t know how that would price.
  • Combine a 5k segment and a 10k segment, and you get a 10k award.
  • Combine a 5k segment and 12.5k segment, and you get a 12.5k award.
  • Combine a 10k segment and 12.5k segment, and you get a 12.5k award.
  • City pairs do not have a price. Segments have a price. (Explained below.)
  • All 5k and 10k awards are only bookable for flights through December 31, 2015.

Segments Have a Price, Not City Pairs

  • A “city pair” is your departing and arrival city no matter how many stops you have in between.
  • A “segment” is one wheels up and wheels down of an airplane.

The 5k and 10k prices we’ve uncovered on delta.com are for segments, not for city pairs. How do I know? Portland/San Francisco as a city pair doesn’t have just one price. The direct flight costs 12,500 miles. The routing via Seattle costs 10,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.50.21 PM

Why is that? Because Delta has clearly assigned prices to each segment.

  • The Portland-to-San-Francisco segment costs 12,500 SkyMiles as we can see above.
  • The Portland-to-Seattle segment costs 5,000 miles.
  • The Seattle-to-San-Francisco segment costs 10,000 miles.

Proof SEA-SFO segment is 10k:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.51.31 PM

Proof SEA-PDX is 5k:Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.51.58 PM

When you fly a connecting domestic Delta award itinerary in which one segment prices at one price and the other at another, you just pay the higher segment price.

That’s why PDX-SFO is 12,500 miles and PDX-SEA-SFO is 10,000 miles.

You can see this rule over and over if you try to combine a 5k and 10k segment, a 5k and 12.5k segment, or a 10k and 12.5k segment.

For instance, San Diego to Sacramento prices at 10,000 miles via Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 4.23.46 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 4.23.52 PM

That’s because the San Diego-to-Los-Angeles segment costs 10,000 miles, the Los-Angeles-to-Sacramento segment costs 5,000 miles, and delta.com goes with the higher price on connecting itineraries.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 4.24.52 PM

This logic implies that combining two 5k segments would cost just 5,000 total miles. Unfortunately we can’t test that because no two current 5k segments can be combined into a legal route.

I tried to combine the Sacramento-to-Los-Angeles and Los-Angeles-to-San-Jose 5k segments, but that’s not a legal routing, so I got this error.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.47.10 PM

All the 5k and 10k segments disappear after December 31

When Delta first made some SkyMiles awards 10,000 miles in March, they put out a press release and said that the discount was for awards flown by December 31, 2015 only. That rule appears to still be in place for both the 5k and 10k awards.

San Diego to Los Angeles only offers 10k awards until December 31, and the best price after that is 12,500 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.56.27 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.56.34 PM

Similarly, Seattle to Portland jumps to 12,500 miles from 5,000 miles after December 31.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.55.26 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.55.33 PM

That’s everything my digging has uncovered:

  • So far, there are no known 5k segments that can be combined onto one award, so we don’t know how that would price.
  • Combine a 5k segment and a 10k segment, and you get a 10k award.
  • Combine a 5k segment and 12.5k segment, and you get a 12.5k award.
  • Combine a 10k segment and 12.5k segment, and you get a 12.5k award.
  • City pairs do not have a price. Segments have a price.
  • All 5k and 10k awards are only bookable for flights through December 31, 2015.

Do you have any questions? Have you uncovered anything else?

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Delta SkyMiles have access to the best award space to all of Argentina–not just Buenos Aires–year round in economy and Business Class.

The backbone of the award space is AeroMexico availability on its daily flights from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. This award space is available for 2+ people in economy and 2+ people in Business Class on the vast majority of flights for the next year. Four flights weekly on the route are even on AeroMexico’s newest plane, the 787 Dreamliner with flat bed seats.

Unlike the Dreamliner Business Class award space to Argentina on United, you don’t have to end your Delta award in Buenos Aires because Delta also partners with Aerolineas Argentinas, which you can fly to a eight other major destinations for zero extra miles on the same award.

  • What is the award space with Delta SkyMiles to Buenos Aires?
  • How is the AeroMexico Dreamliner?
  • Where else can you go in Argentina?

Delta has terrible award space on its own flights from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, but partner AeroMexico releases a ton of award space from the United States to Mexico City and from there to Buenos Aires in economy and Business Class. All Delta partner awards from the United States mainland to Argentina cost:

  • 30,000 SkyMiles one way in economy
  • 62,500 SkyMiles one way in Business Class

Just how good is AeroMexico award space?

AeroMexico Award Space

Every day below that says “65,000” has award space for two people in Business Class from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. (Oddly Delta charges more from Mexico to Argentina than from the United States. When we start our award in the United States, we’ll pay just 62,500 miles.)

Other than some missing days around Christmas–and even then there’s space if you’re flexible–you can see there is award space for two people in Business Class from Mexico City to Buenos Aires almost every day.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.19.37 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.20.28 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.22.01 PM

The pattern is the same from Buenos Aires back to Mexico City. What about getting between the United States and Mexico City?

Award Space Between the United States and Mexico

Researching this article, I was very surprised how many AeroMexico flights there are between the United States and Mexico. Here’s a combined route map for Delta and AeroMexico flights between the United States and Mexico City.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 6.21.09 PM
Source: gcmap.com

Notes: BOS-MEX begins June 1, 2015. Fresno only has a direct AeroMexico flight to Guadalajara where you can connect to Mexico City.

If you live in any of the cities on the map, you can get to Buenos Aires with only one connection in Mexico City. While the Delta flights (Atlanta, Detroit, Salt Lake City) don’t have very good award space to Mexico City, the AeroMexico flights have amazing award space for two people in either cabin.

For instance, here is the award space for two people this Argentine Spring–October and November are a fantastic time to visit–from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 1.50.16 PM

There is award space every day. All of it features an AeroMexico flight from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, though some of it features an Alaska Airlines flight to Mexico City.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 1.53.05 PM

Award space is similarly excellent from Argentina back to the United States. For instance, award space for two people in economy and Business Class from Buenos Aires to Washington DC also shows award space almost every day.

Again, the backbone of this space is AeroMexico availability via Mexico City, but there are also options that fly Aerolineas Argentinas via New York. (AR1300 below)

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 1.55.24 PM

Connections in Argentina

All of these awards land at Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport (EZE). Most domestic flights in Argentina leave Aeroparque (AEP), which is much closer to the city, but Aerolineas Argentinas does operate some flights from EZE to the rest of the country including great tourist spots like Iguazu, Mendoza, Bariloche, Calafate, and Ushuaia.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.05.20 PM
Source: gcmap.com

You can add Aerolineas award space to your award for zero extra miles, but you can’t do it online.

You can search the award space on delta.com, like this search from EZE to Ushuaia that shows plenty of Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.02.35 PM But when you try to add the intra-Argentina segment to an international award, you get an error like this despite there being legal award space. Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.03.17 PM

The solution? Call Delta 800-323-2323 if you want to book your Argentina award with intra-Argentina award space.

AeroMexico Dreamliner

Four days a week, AeroMexico flies its new 787 Dreamliner between Mexico City and Buenos Aires. The rest of the flights are operated by 767s. AeroMexico also flies its Dreamliner on some New York <-> Mexico City and Los Angeles <-> Mexico City flights.

The Dreamliner has fully flat beds in Business Class in a 2-2-2 configuration, so, as usual, pick a middle seat if you’re flying alone to avoid having to climb over or be climbed over by anyone else.

God Save the Points has a review of Business Class on the AeroMexico Dreamliner. The review is complimentary of the seat, bed, and entertainment though it refers to the crew as “ghosts, you know those things you can’t see, talk to or receive a drink from.” [Scott: hahaha, I believe it]

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.44.10 PM
AeroMexico Dreamliner in reclined, but not yet flat, position. Source: http://www.godsavethepoints.com/news/dreamlinerreview

Try your hardest to fly a day served by the 787, because the 767 doesn’t feature fully flat beds.

Bottom Line

Argentina can be a tough award ticket. There’s almost no space on American Airlines flights to Argentina for most of the next year. United has amazing award space some days, but none for months at a time.

The solution is to use Delta miles on AeroMexico flights. Fly from over a dozen airports to Mexico City and connect to the AeroMexico Dreamliner to Buenos Aires. You’ll pay only 30,000 SkyMiles in economy or 62,500 SkyMiles in Business Class each way for a fully flat bed.

Your award doesn’t have to end in Buenos Aires. You can connect from there to eight cities in Argentina on Aerolineas Argentina for no extra miles, but you’ll have to call to book an award like that.

Further Reading

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This is the ninth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

We’re in the section on redeeming miles. Once you understand how to redeem miles, you’ll understand which miles are right to earn for your travel goals. This post will focus on Delta miles, which are useful for a number of awards especially now that one way awards are allowed and award space has improved in 2015.

Why Collect Delta Miles?

Because they exist. It is no secret that Delta miles are less valuable than American Airlines, United, and Alaska miles.

But worth less does not mean worthless. Delta miles can be used to get to all six inhabited continents, and Delta miles are often the best to get to Australia in a flat bed. Plus since Delta now allows one way awards for half the price of roundtrips, lack of award space has become less of an issue.

  • What airlines can you fly with Delta miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Delta awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the SkyMiles program?
  • How can you book a Delta award?

Mileage Price

Delta SkyMiles are region-based miles. See The Five Types of Miles.

The number of miles for a Delta award is based on an award chart, but Delta stopped publishing its award chart in February 2015.

A region-to-region chart–even Delta’s unpublished chart–means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

Delta’s secret chart has five price levels in each cabin.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 1.52.41 AM

We redeem miles for Level 1 awards, the capacity controlled awards that cost the fewest miles, which are not available in every cabin on every flight. Level 2 awards only cost a little more while Level 3-5 awards are a ton more miles.

To have a multi-segment award price at Level 1, every segment in that direction must have Saver award space.

To find out the prices of Level 1-5 awards to each region, check out these screenshots of Delta’s charts before they were taken down.

Partners

Delta is a member of SkyTeam. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • Delta Airlines
  • Aeroflot (Russia)
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa (Spain)
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines (Taiwan)
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM (Netherlands)
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines (Lebanon)
  • Saudia
  • TAROM (Romania)
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines (China)

Delta also has several partners that are not a part of SkyTeam. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • GOL (Brazil)
  • Hawaiian Airlines (only interisland flights)
  • Virgin Atlantic (United Kingdom)
  • Virgin Australia

Subject to other routing rules, which I’ll detail below, you can freely combine Delta flights, SkyTeam partner flights, and other partner flights onto a single award.

Routing Rules

You can book one way awards with Delta miles for half the price of roundtrip awards since January 1, 2015.

Roundtrip Delta awards cannot have any stopovers.

Beyond that, awards have the same routing rules as paid tickets. You can search the routing rules for paid tickets on Expert Flyer. For most domestic itineraries, your legal layover points are specified. For most international awards, a Maximum Permitted Mileage that you can fly is specified, and you can layover anywhere.

All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

Since January 1, 2015, Delta awards do not allow stopovers.

A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.

Open Jaws

When you can book one way awards, like you can with Delta miles, you can always book as many open jaws as you’d like.

Keep in mind that an open jaw is not a hole in the middle of a single one way award. Those are prohibited.

Free One Ways

Free one ways require a stopover at your home airport. Delta awards can’t have free stopovers. Therefore Delta awards cannot have free one ways.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

Delta awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly roundtrip to the United Kingdom in Business Class. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at delta.com. Calling Delta to book an award incurs a $25 per person fee, which is waived for Gold Medallions and higher.

Changes: There is a $150 fee per person to make changes to Delta awards, which is waived for Platinum and Diamond Elites. No changes are allowed within 72 hours of departure.

Cancellation: There is a $150 fee per person to cancel Delta awards, which is waived for Platinum and Diamond Elites. No cancellations are allowed within 72 hours of departure.

Full details on Delta’s award fees can be found here.

Fuel Surcharges

Delta collects fuel surcharges on many of its partners. See a near-complete list here.

How to Book Delta Awards

These partners can be searched on delta.com.

  • Delta
  • Aeroflot
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • GOL
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Partners that can’t be searched online can be searched by calling Delta at 800-323-2323 or by searching other SkyTeam award search engines.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your Delta awards. We have the expertise to search every Delta partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

I don’t love Delta miles, but I collect them as part of a balanced miles strategy.

Delta miles are great to Australia and can be used to fly to any inhabited continent.

Delta’s award chart is expensive for economy and Business awards, and you can’t book First Class awards at all on international flights.

No stopovers are allowed on Delta awards, but at least you can now book one way awards for half the roundtrip price.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.10 PM
Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.16 PM

You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

You will get a lot of errors trying to book free one ways on united.com because united.com’s multi-city search tool is broken. Don’t despair. Find all the space you need with one way searches, then call in to book.

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

While American, US Airways (by ending its mileage program), and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United and Alaska miles.

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I was explaining to my brother the changes that Delta has made in 2015, and I mentioned that the one I just couldn’t believe was that Delta eliminated its award chart. It seems self-evident to all of us in the miles game that Delta eliminating its award chart is insane and unjustifiable.

(Delta deleted the chart from its site, but the possible priced for awards are the same now as they were when the chart was on delta.com. You can see screenshots of the deleted chart here.)

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“Delta eliminating its chart is no big deal,” he replied.

“Of course it is,” I countered. “Now there is no easy way to know how many miles you need to collect for your dream trip.”

“But,” he pointed out, “there isn’t any way to know how much cash you need if you’re saving up for a dream trip either. Right now maybe a roundtrip to Australia is $1,000, but it could be $1,500 by the time you’ve saved $1,000.”

True, but now there’s no easy way to compare how many miles trips are to each region, so you can find sweet spots. Of course, there’s no easy way to find the best value cash flights by reading off a region-by-region table either.

But but but, now there’s no way to know the “Saver” award price with Delta miles to where you want to go. If you search delta.com and see that one way to Europe is 37,500 miles on the day you want, is that a good price or not? Of course, if you search and find the flight is $500, is that a good price or not?

He had a point. While we’re used to award charts, we get by perfectly fine when paying for our cash tickets without any table that tells us what flights from one region to another should cost.

I think I was just tired from jetlag and in the moment missed what I think are other big problems with Delta eliminating its chart:

  1. Now it will be easier for Delta to go revenue-based on award redemptions. They won’t have to even announce the change because right now Delta award prices are “whatever price Delta says” anyway.
  2. All Delta’s competitors have an award chart.
  3. All Delta flights are available for some amount of miles. We know from the past chart that there are five possible prices, Level 1 through 5, and we knew the Level 5 price. Removing the chart removes from our knowledge the maximum number of miles we’d need if we really wanted to redeem our miles for an in demand flight. While I have never redeemed a Level 5 award and hope never to redeem one, what that price is sets a floor for the value of our miles.

When I write out my reasons, they don’t seem particularly strong.

I was angry when Delta removed its chart, and I still feel that emotion, but I can’t logically articulate why not having a chart is a big deal.

So I guess I agree that it’s not a big deal in and of itself that Delta eliminated its award chart because we still have screenshots of the charts, award prices haven’t changed, and my brother’s arguments about not knowing what a flight will cost with cash either have some validity. The big deal is not the loss of the chart; it is the signal Delta sent by eliminating its chart.

It just feels like Delta doesn’t care about SkyMiles members. Every other airline has an award chart, but not Delta.

And it feels like Delta is preparing for something worse–like revenue-based redemptions–by getting rid of its chart.

Your Take

Do you have some stronger reasons why Delta eliminating its chart is a big deal? Or is the lack of a chart not as bad as the signal that Delta sends by not having a chart?

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Delta has a new daily flight from Philadelphia to London that begins April 26, 2015 with excellent economy award space immediately and good Business Class award space later in the year.

Delta charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 62,500 miles each way in flat bed Business Class. If you don’t live in Philadelphia, there are flights from Delta hubs plus Seattle and Raleigh/Durham to Philadelphia to connect.

Award Space

First I searched for one passenger in economy just on the direct flight from Philadelphia to London. As you can see, the flight starts April 26, and there is award space at Delta’s cheapest transatlantic price of 30,000 SkyMiles nearly every day for the first four weeks.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.04.58 PM

Even later in the summer, award space is excellent with almost every day available for 30,000 or 37,500 SkyMiles, which used to be Level 1 and Level 2 on Delta’s award chart before that were eliminated.Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.05.20 PMI ran the same search for two passengers, and award space is still available for 30,000 miles per person from June 27 to July 18. That’s excellent for peak season.

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Next I searched for Business Class for one passenger from April 26 for the first five weeks of the route. There is no award space at the cheapest price of 62,500 miles. A few days in May are 80,000 miles one way.Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.06.28 PM

Later in the year, there is regular Business Class award space for 62,500 miles one way.Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.06.57 PM

Taxes

Taxes departing the United Kingdom are very high. A roundtrip in economy is 60,000 Delta miles + $192 in taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.07.59 PM

 

Taxes are even higher in Business Class at about $300 roundtrip. You can save almost $150 on the economy award and $250 on the Business Class award by returning from a lower tax country like Spain.

As always, if you want to fly an open jaw to Europe, fly into London and home from somewhere on the continent with lower taxes.

You’re Better at Searching than Delta.com

This great award space to Europe over the Summer will be protected by the incompetence of the Delta search engine. Philadelphia is not a Delta hub, so delta.com doesn’t look for connections via Philadelphia.

But there’s no reason you can’t fly Raleigh to Philly to London on two Delta flights. If both have Level 1 award space, the cost is 30,000 miles. You just need to search segment-by-segment.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 10.08.58 PM

On May 1, there is Level 1 award space (we know because it prices at 12,500 miles one way) from Raleigh to Philadelphia–pictured below–and from Philadelphia to London–see the calendars above.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.09.29 PM

But on May 1, Raleigh to Philadelphia to London itineraries do not show up on a delta.com search for awards from Raleigh to London. All the 30,000 mile routings are via JFK, including some with 10+ hour layovers.
Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.10.33 PMIf a Delta award connecting in Philadelphia is the best itinerary the day you want to fly, do what you always have to do when you want to book an award you can’t bring up online: call the airline. Call Delta at 800-323-2323 and feed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight you found. Ask for the phone fee to be waived, since you couldn’t book online.

Possible Connections

Delta and Alaska Airlines, a Delta partner searchable on delta.com, have several flights to Philadelphia that you could fly to connect to this transatlantic award space.

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Source: wikipedia.org

If you live in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Seattle, etc, you can connect to London with one stop in Philadelphia for as little as 30,000 Delta miles.

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3

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Aeroflot flights are now bookable on delta.com with Delta SkyMiles. The Russian carrier flies from New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Miami to Moscow and throughout Russia and Europe.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.47.12 AM

This is the seventh SkyMiles partner that has been added to delta.com in 2015.

Award space is excellent on Aeroflot’s flights in economy to Moscow this summer, and award space is good in Business Class on the New York route. Aeroflot’s Business Class features flat beds. The only drawback is that there are mild fuel surcharges on Aeroflot award flights booked with Delta miles.

Award Space

On delta.com, you can easily pull up a five week snapshot of award space on direct flights on any route in economy or Business Class.

This is July 2015 for two passengers in economy from New York (JFK) to Moscow (SVO.) There is award space every day on Aeroflot flights.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.20.53 AM

In Business Class from New York to Moscow for two passengers, award space is not quite as good, but still quite open if you are flexible on the day of the week you can fly.Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.21.19 AM

Note that dates that say 62,500 + $129 have award space on the Aeroflot flight. Dates that says 62,500 + $20 have award space on the Delta flight. That represents about $100 in fuel surcharges each direction on Aeroflot flights between the United States and Russia.

A roundtrip in Aeroflot Business Class costs 125,000 Delta miles + $270.Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.23.00 AM

I like to avoid fuel surcharges as much as anyone, but I’d pay these if they were my only option for a direct flight to Russia. The out-of-pocket cost of $270 is less than the taxes on a roundtrip Business Class award to London (around $300.)

Award space from Miami, Washington, and Los Angeles is not as good as award space from New York. Los Angeles to Moscow only has three days in July with award space for one passenger in Business Class with Saver award space on Aeroflot.

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.31.02 AMWashington to Moscow has a bit more award space, but only has eight days in June.

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The Product

Aeroflot’s Business Class product looks better than you might expect, but not quite world class. The longhaul flights that serve the United States have Business Class in rows of 2-2-2 seats. The seats are flat-ish, though they definitely look a little angled.
Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.26.13 AM

I would rather fly Delta Business Class to Europe, but this product definitely looks like one on which I could get some sleep.
Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.27.09 AM

Here is a video of the Aeroflot 777 which flies to New York. The video features images of all the cabins.

Bottom Line

Delta SkyMiles are getting easier to redeem as more partners are added to delta.com. The following airlines’ award space are now bookable on delta.com:

  • Delta
  • Aeroflot
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • GOL
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Not all Delta partners are bookable online though. Here are Delta partners you still cannot book on delta.com:

  • Air Europa
  • Czech Airlines
  • Great Lakes Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Kenya Airways
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air

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Meeting the minimum spending requirement on the Arrival Plus give you about $500 worth of free flights on any airline with no blackouts.

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Delta now offers awards within the United States for as little as 10,000 miles one way in economy. Previously the minimum price for a domestic award was 12,500 miles (or at least I think it was, since Delta doesn’t have an award chart anymore.) From the press release:

New One-Way Award tickets beginning as low as 10,000 miles plus taxes and fees, available through Dec. 31, 2015 for travel in select U.S., Mexican and Caribbean markets. Customers can now fly to several popular Award destinations with a 21-day minimum advance purchase.

That’s excellent news, though note that the sale is only temporary. The cheapest awards for domestic travel in 2016 price out at 12,500 miles. For instance, here is Atlanta to New Orleans, one of the routes with 10,000 mile awards in 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 6.48.08 PM

Note that the 10,000 mile days abruptly end on December 31 and are replaced in January 2016 with 12,500 mile days.

But my biggest question is what routes are on sale for 10,000 miles? Delta, taciturn as ever, doesn’t say. I did some digging, and I’m still not sure.

What Routes Are on Sale?

United has a similar offer. It offers 10,000 mile domestic awards for itineraries 700 miles or less.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.03.36 PM

For instance, Houston to Atlanta is 10,000 United miles at the Saver level because it just under 700 miles in the air.Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.03.50 PM So, I thought, maybe Delta’s 10,000 mile awards are also under a set distance. I searched award prices on a bunch of close-ish awards from Atlanta to check my theory.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 6.43.08 PM

Here were the results:

  • Charleston, WV (363 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Cincinnati (373 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Tampa (406 miles flown): 10,000 SkyMiles
  • New Orleans (425 miles flown): 10,000 SkyMiles
  • Indianapolis (432 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Baton Rouge, LA (448 miles flown): 10,000 SkyMiles
  • Little Rock, AR (453 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Richmond (481 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • St. Louis (484 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Pittsburgh (526 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Chicago (606 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles
  • Houston (689 miles flown): 12,500 SkyMiles

So the sale is not distance-based, at least not strictly so.

Can you fly from one city on that list to another via Atlanta for 10,000 miles if both cost 10,000 miles from Atlanta?

Yes! You can fly from one city on the 10,000 mile list from Atlanta to another on the 10,000 mile list for the same 10,000 SkyMiles. For instance, Tampa to New Orleans–both on the 10,000 mile list from Atlanta–is 10,000 SkyMiles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 6.53.41 PMSo maybe the sale works like this: certain cities are selected and domestic awards to/from those cities at the Saver level all cost 10,000 miles. That would mean all awards to/from Tampa were 10,000 miles.

That’s not the case! You cannot fly from a 10,000 mile city to a 12,500 mile city for 10,000 miles. Such an award costs 12,500 miles. Tampa (on the 10,000 mile list from Atlanta) to Little Rock (on the 12,500 mile list from Atlanta) is 12,500 SkyMiles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 7.09.48 PM

With all this data, the sale must work like this:

Certain city pairs determined by Delta will cost 10,000 SkyMiles one way for awards flown by December 31, 2015. Delta hasn’t listed those city pairs. You can combine city pairs that are on the 10,000 mile list, so if A <-> B and B <-> C are on the list, A-B-C costs 10,000 miles also.

Got it?

The question remains: which city pairs cost 10,000 miles? Let us know the ones you find in the comments, especially if they are awards to Mexico and the Caribbean.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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